Facial expressions are a main communication channel used by many different species of primate. Despite this, we know relatively little about how primates discriminate between different facial expressions, and most of what we do know comes from a restricted number of well-studied species. In this study, three crested macaques (Macaca nigra) took part in matching-to-sample tasks where they had to discriminate different facial expressions. In a first experiment, the macaques had to match a photograph of a facial expression to another exemplar of the same expression produced by a different individual, against examples of one of three other types of expressions and neutral faces. In a second experiment, they had to match a dynamic video recording of a facial expression to a still photograph of another exemplar of the same facial expression produced by another individual, also against one of four other expressions. The macaques performed above chance in both tasks, identifying expressions as belonging to the same category regardless of individual identity. Using matrix correlations and multidimensional scaling, we analysed the pattern of errors to see whether overall similarity between facial expressions and/or specific morphological features caused the macaques to confuse facial expressions. Overall similarity, measured with the macaque facial action coding system (maqFACS), did not correlate with performances. Instead, functional similarities between facial expressions could be responsible for the observed pattern of error. These results expand previous findings to a novel primate species and highlight the potential of using video stimuli to investigate the perception and categorisation of visual signals in primates.
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This work was funded by the Leakey Foundation: Research Grant to B.M.W. and J.M. We thank the staff from Marwell Wildlife: Tim Woodfine, Heidi Mitchell, Will Justice, Shelly Parkes, Kevin Saunders, Andy Double, John Pullen and all the keepers of the East section for granting us access to the animals and for their assistance and enthusiasm throughout this study. We thank all members of the Macaca Nigra Project (www.macaca-nigra.org) for their support.